Let your fingers do the walking (the hard way)

Most every business wants to be easily findable on the internet.  As the internet has sophisticated, this chore has gotten its own name – search engine management (SEM).  One branch of this discipline (but not the whole effort) is search engine optimization (SEO) which is perhaps the more widely known acronym.  Another branch on the SEM tree, and one that is also very important to helping a business be found on the internet is local search. 

Happily managing local search doesn’t require nearly as much technical knowledge or marketing training as SEO.

Local search consists of the hundreds of (but usually only a couple dozen important) directories that point internet users toward your business.  We’re not talking about the search engines such as Google or Bing, but directories – yellowpages.com, orangepages.com, lemonpages.com, tangerinepages.com etc. Actually, Yahoo, Facebook business listings (not your page), Yelp, MapQuest, Superpages, Citysearch and similar sites are the big players.

Having correct listings (obviously) is important. This used to be very simple a few decades ago. There was one phone book and you either bought an ad or satisfied yourself with a simple listing of your phone number. (“Let your fingers do the walking through the Yellow Pages” was the jingle). It became more complicated when deregulation brought an age of a half dozen competing phone books, mostly used as doorstops. The smart phone era reduced printed directories but an industry of online special directories blossomed.

How does a business get listed in 50 or 100 or more directories? No effort is usually required for an established business because there are about five major data service companies that feed the ecosystem of online directories with information. So, if you want to establish purplepages.com, the information is available for licensing. You can read about this whole environment here.

The problem for a local business comes in when errors have crept into your listings. Perhaps another business had your phone number previously but the company is still in business somewhere else and the directories are not completely updated? Or what if your operation moved and the addresses aren’t updated everywhere?  What if your business name has variations, abbreviations, shortened versions (left off the Inc., LLC, etc.)?  Computers don’t necessarily deal well with data that’s not an exact match. The artificial intelligence era may be coming but it’s not here yet.

Fortunately there are numerous tools that business owner can use to run a free scan of the local search jungle to see how they are listed. Here’s my favorite simply because I’ve used it frequently for clients. Here’s another from a well-respected SEM company.

I recommend every business owner conduct a scan of their local search presence. The owners of these scan tools naturally have something to sell you related to fixing incorrect listings. My first inclination is that there is no substitute for elbow grease in scrubbing a shine onto your internet directory listings. If you go through the trouble to “claim your business” on all of the major directories plus Google My Business and on the Bing equivalent, you’ll have better results. The various directories let you add photos, videos, business and product descriptions, listings of business hours, and more. But the formats and the variety of information varies considerably. It’s like setting up two dozen social media pages. This might sound daunting but knock one or two off every week and within the year you’ll have squeaky clean listings on (whatever you deem to be) the most important directories for your industry. I don’t think an automated web service can effectively do this for you for $29.95 a month or whatever.

And pointing several dozen authoritative websites toward your own website is a plus for your SEO. But that will require an entirely different article to explain.

— Frederick Welk
CEDF Business Advisor

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